God-chasing in India’s Elections
- By John B. Monteiro

  • Tue,23 Apr 2019 11:45:42 AM

April 23, 2019

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.” – Alfred Tennyson (1809- 1892), Poet laureate of Britain and Ireland. Samuel Butler (1835-1902), English poet and satirist, mischievously commented later:”... but he wisely refrains from saying whether they are good or bad things.” (emphasis added).

People in India, as elsewhere, rush to temples, churches and other religious places and priests, poojaries and heads of these places to seek blessings, to receive favours and ward off evils – and some even to thank for favours received. During such outings to court favours or ward off evils, some end up injured or dead because of stampedes to get vantage or urgent darshan of the deity or the VVIPs that visit the spot. But, sometimes you don’t need a stampede to kill or maim the devotees. One such recent instance comes from Kerala which provoked this article on elections and temples. But, first the facts.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, one of the most educated and articulate of our political leaders, who was injured in a freak accident at a temple in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, on Monday, April 8, 2019 has sought a probe into the incident after he was discharged from hospital. While seeking a probe, he said such incidents are unheard of. “My mother is 80 plus. She also said she has never heard of any such mishap. It is good to clear the air”, Tharoor added.

Tharoor was injured during a Thulabaram ritual, which involves making an offering to God equivalent to one’s weight. The Congress candidate was sitting on weighing scale, to be weighed against sugar, when it collapsed injuring his head. He was rushed to a general hospital where he received six stitches on his head. Tharoor is seeking a third term from Thiruvananthapuram, which goes to polls on April 23.

The accident and its aftermath have shown the inherent, but rarely surfacing, cultural positives of Indians in an otherwise murky election scenario. In the morning of April 16 BJP leader and union minister Nirmala Sitharaman visited the Congress leader in hospital, prompting him to tweet his gratitude. “Touched by the gesture of @nsitharaman, who dropped by today morning to visit me in the hospital, amid her hectic electioneering in Kerala. Civility is a rare virtue in Indian politics - great to see her practice it by example!”, Tharoor tweeted from his hospital bed.

He also thanked C Divakaran, his Left Democratic Front rival for 'expressing concern' over a phone call. He tweeted, "Very gracious of my LDF rival C Divakaran to call this morning to express concern about my well-being. Said he had spoken to the Hospital Superintendent to assure him I would be okay. "Don't be demoralised", he added. I'm not: I'm more determined than ever to see this through!"

Rahul Gandhi offered prayers at the famous Thirunelli temple in Kerala's Wayanad on April 17 and performed rituals in memory of his late family members. The Congress president has a personal connection with the hill town as it was here that his father, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's, ashes were immersed. An urn containing the ashes of Rajiv Gandhi was taken to Wayanad in 1991 and they were immersed in Papanashi, a holy stream connected to the famous temple of lord Vishnu in the picturesque village of Thirunelli. Known as Kashi of South, the Thirunelly temple. Located in a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains and thick forests, is dedicated to Lord Maha Vishnu. According to Hindu belief, performing bali tapanam ( paying obeisance to departed souls) rituals for ancestors in the Papanashi, the stream attached to the forest temple, is sacred. "Wayanad is more than a constituency for Rahul Gandhi as it holds a deep and meaningful connection to his father," Rahul Gandhi's office in Wayanad tweeted.

"As per the priest's directions, Rahul performed all rituals for his grandmother (Indira Gandhi), father, forefathers, and victims of Pulwama attack," said Congress General Secretary, KC Venugopal, who was among those who accompanied Mr Gandhi to the temple and the stream.

Dressed in white mundu or dhoti and wearing an angavastra, Mr Gandhi walked to the temple from its guest house. He took note of every detail told to him by the temple priests and then prayed to the deity. He, along with the priests later walked some 700 metres to the spot where his father's ashes were immersed in 1991.

Reporting on Rahul’s Thirunelly temple visit, KPM Basheer commented in The Hindu: “His ‘emotional’ Bali Tharpanam and worship at the temple were loaded with political symbolism. It aimed to assure the Hindu electorate that he was a ‘pucca’ Hindu who believed in temple worship, rituals and traditions, and not a ‘fake’ Hindu as his rivals have alleged...” Thirunelly, for the faithful, is the Kashi of the south; Prime Minister Mody is contesting from Kashi (Varanasi). At the Papanashini ritual,

Thus, it was a multi-purpose temple visit. There are other VIP visits with stated and hidden agenda which will be briefly cited below without comments.

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UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi on April 11 filed her nomination as Congress party’s candidate for the Lok Sabha election in Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli. Ahead of filing the nomination, she performed a puja in the company of her son Congress president Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.(TOI/The Hindu).

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In the Kashmir Valley, top-ranking candidates of the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) visited Sufi shrines before filing their nominations on Wednesday (April 3).

Former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, who filed her nomination for the Anantnag seat, visited the 16th century shrine of Baba Naseeb-ud-din Gazi in the Baba Mohalla area of her hometown Bijbehara in Anantnag district. The shrine is among the last remaining places where whirling dervishes, influenced by Persian poet Jalal ud-din Muhammad Rumi, are still seen on the urs (death anniversary of a Sufi saint). Thereafter, she drove 23 km to another shrine of Zain-ud-din Rishi, housed at the top of a hillock in Aishmuqam.


NC president Farooq Abdullah, who filed nomination papers for the Srinagar seat first paid obeisance at the shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Hamza Maqdoomi, hours before filing his nomination. He had a sahfa (turban) made at the shrine as a good omen, said an NC leader. After this, he rushed to the Dargah Hazrat Bal. (The Hindu).

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Yogi Adityanath trying to prove a point with temple run in UP?

(Indian Express --18/4/19)

Serving the 72-hour gag order imposed on him by the Election Commission of India, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is using the time visiting temples, including a revered shrine of Lord Hanuman, as if to reiterate that ‘Bajrangbali’ is a matter of faith for him and not an issue of political discourse. The CM visited the temple town of Ayodhya to have darshan of Lord Ram at the makeshift temple at Ram Janmabhoomi and offered prayers to Lord Hanuman at Hanumangarhi temple, one of the most revered shrines of Lord Hanuman.

On the last day of the EC gag order, Yogi visited Kashi. He did not only visit Kashi Vishwanath temple but also offered prayers at Sankat Mochan temple to seek blessings of Lord Hanuman.

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What happens on election day is reflected in the following report from Indian Express (19/4/19) titled “Netas seek divine help before going to vote”.

Before they made their way to the polling booths, many politicians took some time earlier in the day to turn to the Gods and offer their prayers on Thursday.

Former prime minister and Tumkur JD(S) candidate H D Deve Gowda visited the ancestral Haradanahalli Eshwara temple in his hometown with son H D Revanna and grandson Prajwal, who is also a candidate, before casting his vote. Former chief minister Siddaramaiah also took time to fly in from Kalaburagi to his hometown Mysuru to visit Siddarameshwara Temple before casting his vote. Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy visited Adichunchanagiri mutt and sought the swamiji’s blessings before going to vote. He was accompanied by wife Anita Kumaraswamy and son Nikhil, who is a candidate from Mandya.

Water Resources Minister D K Shivakumar too visited Kabbalamma temple before voting. BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje visited Ambalpaadi Mahakaali and Srikrishna temples in her constituency - Udupi-Chickmagalur - before arriving in Bengaluru to cast her vote.

What would happen on the temple-courting front once the election results are announced on May 23? This can only be speculated. The winners will go back to the temples for thanksgiving. Thanksgiving reminds us of a biblical episode wherein Jesus healed ten persons suffering from leprosy. Only one of them returned to thank him. The winners might now get busy courting the emerging top leadership for bagging lucrative positions in the new dispensation. The losers may sulk and drown their sorrow in drink and think on how to “recover” their lost “Investment”.
If religious places are courted, can their religious and administrative heads be far behind? This is partly due to group photos taken for the media. The Dharmadhikari of Sri Kshetra Dharmasthala in Karnataka, Veerendra Heggade, is much in demand for photo ops. How such religious leaders like Hindu seers, bishops and mullas bless all the visitors with a poker face is an interesting topic.

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